Producer: Cole Burris, J.J. Plasencio
Label: Cole Burris
Release: August 19, 2011
Rating: 5.8 RockRolls
Texan-native Cole Burris is no stranger to the Austin music scene. Cole has been seen around the capital of the Lone Star State as a performer, composer, songwriter, and has been featured by other songwriting competitions and was most recently among the top featured bands in Converse's Get Out Of The Garage contest. Now, with his debut album, Cole has stepped out into the recording world with his self-produced (with some help), independently released premiere, Changes. Using the power of social media and word-of-mouth, Cole has promoted the album on his own and released it without the backing of even an established, independent label. The DIY approach to any album from any artist is extreme, but in a city as independent and unique as the live music capital of the world, Cole may be in just the place where a business model based on going at it on your own can thrive.
What is unfortunate for this first release is how different many familiar songs sound on the studio album compared to the live performances Cole is known for in Austin and on YouTube. People expecting little more than a recoding of a live singer-songwriter show will be in for a surprise from the album's four opening tracks. The album opens on an unrecognizable (at least to this reviewer) version of "Her Love" that features lead electric guitar riffs that sound too prominent in the mix and detract from the music underneath. Fortunately the electric guitar is only a minor part of the introduction (and later the bridge), but it's quickly apparent that this version of the song has gained nothing from all the instrumentation added to it in the studio. The same could be honestly said of the three songs following it, which retain fractions of their original sound, but are so over-produced and masked by synth instruments, clap-tracks and a disappointingly bubble-gum-pop tone that really let Burris' talent down.
It's not all bad news for Cole Burris. Almost as if there was a change in direction, the album turns decidedly more singer-songwriter on the fifth track, "Changes," that really features two things not yet seen on the album: that Cole is an incredibly talented guitarist and that Cole can deliver amazing sounding vocals. The tone of the track even feels more relaxed as the production of the earlier tracks is stripped away and Cole is seen for how he is known, a guy with his guitar.
The rest of the album feels like this actually which makes the latter half of Changes feel like and EP with some other band's demo tacked to the front of it. I fear that the inclusion of the earlier tracks on this release means that solid tracks like "Wings" and "If I Can't Change" may not be heard if listeners tune out after the first 15 minutes. However, I do hope that, if nothing else, people listen to Cole's cover of Elton John and Bernie Taupin's classic "Rocket Man." The restraint and control over John's seminal anthem exhibit how Cole is a performer talented beyond his 19 years.
One can't always knock a studio album out of the park, but for an independent artist struggling to live in an industry that eats bands backed by major recording companies for breakfast, one has to ensure that what they are releasing works for themselves, and will work for their fans. Cole is extremely talented, but I fear since his first impression to new listeners is completely devoid of his vocal command and stage presence, he will face an uphill battle with future releases.